Los Angeles Lakers: Kyle Kuzma is finding his niche

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has faced his fair share of critics this season, but he looks to finally be finding his niche on the team.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has received a lot of criticism throughout his third season in the NBA. The organization thought highly of him, as he was the only player in their young core to not be traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in the Anthony Davis blockbuster. However, this season has not gone as planned.

Kuzma’s stats were going to take a hit with Davis in town. There just wouldn’t be as many opportunities to rack up stats. But, Kuzma has struggled with injuries from the get-go.

A stress reaction suffered in August during his time in training camp with Team USA put him behind the eight-ball for the regular season. Right when he got going, he suffered an ankle injury. He was also poked in the eye, causing him to wear goggles for a period of time.

The result? Career lows across the board in points, rebounds and assists. However, when taking a deeper look, Kuzma’s production is closer to his career norms than you would think and he looks to be finding his niche with the team.

While his shooting percentages are at career-low levels, his per-36 minute stats this season are not that far off from his previous two seasons, when he was playing between 6-8.5 minutes more per game. If he pushed his shooting numbers this season toward his career averages, his per 36-minute stats would actually be some of the best of his career.

While the shooting isn’t at the level he or the team had hoped, Kuzma looks to finally be finding his role off the bench and helping the team out in other ways.

The Lakers just finished up the toughest weekend an NBA team could play. They played against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night before facing off with the LA Clippers in a Sunday matinee. Despite shooting 6-of-19 overall, 1-of-10 from the 3-point line, Kuzma was an integral part of them winning both games.

Kuzma pulled down 18 rebounds in the two games, including a team-high 10 against the Clippers. His energy on the glass was great to see, but what was really impressive was how hard he tried on the defensive end of the court.

Against the Clippers, he also registered two blocks and one steal, as he brought it on that end of the court despite his shot not falling on offense.

Kuzma has had plenty of critics discuss his defense, and rightfully so. Kuzma won’t be making an All-Defensive team, but he looks to have refocused himself on that end of the court.

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After he was lauded for his performance against Russell Westbrook back on January 18th, he started to regress. But, against the Bucks and Clippers, he looked focused again and was helpful on that end of the court.

Given his size, Kuzma has the versatility to defend multiple positions on the court. The Lakers can use that to their advantage, as he can defend some smaller players on the perimeter but is also big enough to handle some players on the interior as well. Against teams that are just as versatile in the Bucks and Clippers, that is an important thing to have.

While he still has room for growth on that end of the court, he should be applauded for some strides he has taken. His 104.7 defensive rating on NBA.com is almost identical to Danny Green at 104.6 and is actually better than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has received praise for his defensive efforts, who comes in at 107.4

Kuzma coming through in other areas of the game when his shot isn’t falling is a big step in the right direction. If he is able to still have a positive impact on the game without scoring the ball, it helps him get more minutes and will help the team win games.

Next. 5 Reasons Trading Kyle Kuzma Is A Bad Idea. dark

Kuzma has been labeled as an x-factor this season, as he was expected to be the third scoring option for the team. While he hasn’t done that consistently, people will be able to look past it if he can consistently perform in other areas the remainder of the season and during the playoffs as he did against the Bucks and Clippers this past weekend.